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Exploring Out-of-Body Experiences
By Carol Eby
Samuel Weiser, Inc.Copyright © 1996 Carol Eby
All rights reserved.
Discovery of a Hidden Realm
It was late at night. I was crawling across my cabin floor.
Through the darkness I could plainly see the wooden boards beneath me and feel the familiar scratches and nicks in the wood trim where the floor gives way to the hearth. I was headed toward my bedroom door, only a few feet in front of me.
My body ached from exhaustion; I had to force my muscles to move me slowly along. The fatigue was so overwhelming that my only thought was to make it to my bed—it had not even occurred to me to wonder why I was on the floor in the first place!
After I struggled to force my tired, heavy-feeling body in the intended direction, I reached the side of my bed. Suddenly it felt as if a powerful magnetic force jerked me upward from the floor, and the next thing I knew I was waking up in my bed.
I sat up and thought about what had just happened—I had felt certain I had been awake, yet there I was "waking up" in bed. I had been perfectly aware of my actions and surroundings, and had functioned with conscious deliberation in what seemed exactly like my immediate environment rather than a dream world. While I analyzed this strange experience, I was struck with the impact of sudden realization—I had actually been out of my body! Was this to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience? I hoped not. Upon discovery of this hidden realm, I wished to learn more—much more!
I had known about astral projection (the phenomenon of exiting the physical body and traveling around in an "astral body") for a long time and believed it existed, but I had thought it was limited to the capabilities of only a few highly developed mystical adepts, occultists, or psychics, and a once-in-a-lifetime experience for a few others.
I first heard about astral projection when I was in my late teens. My Aunt Patti told me about a fascinating adventure she once had.
One day, when she was at home alone, Patti lay down and tried an experiment. She had read about astral projection and was curious to determine if she could experience it. Patti closed her eyes, relaxed, and concentrated on leaving her body. After a while, she just "let go" and felt a part of herself drift upward, away from her physical body. She said she had felt "light as a feather." When she looked down, she saw her physical body, lying unconscious where she had left it. She wished to stay out longer and investigate this unusual realm, but something drew her back into her body.
Patti explained to me that she had successfully induced astral projection, which is completely different from dreaming, ESP, or anything else, and it was the most exhilarating experience she had ever had. She said that during astral projection the soul and consciousness leave the physical body and experience freedom beyond our wildest fantasies.
Patti's adventure left a lasting impression on me that aroused my curiosity and stimulated my imagination. The idea that it is possible to willfully enter another dimension and travel to faraway places intrigued me. I thought about how wonderful it would be if this ability could be developed, and I imagined how much fun it would be to travel to medieval castles in Europe, the sunny beaches of Polynesian islands, or wild African jungles. I fantasized the excitement of exploring the hidden world of the ocean floor, or, for the ultimate adventure, soaring through outer space to visit the blazing red planet of Mars, circumnavigate Saturn with its multicolored rings, and perhaps even go to another galaxy, full of millions of its own shining worlds. At that time I did not realize how plausible it was, but wishful thinking and Patti's story led to my studies of astral projection, and launched my astral odyssey.
When I was in my late 20s, through reading, talking with others, and firsthand experience (to be related later), I began to learn much more about astral projection, now usually referred to as out-of-body-experiences, or just OBEs. (I will use the terms interchangeably throughout this work.) I verified for myself what I had suspected since Patti told me her story; there is much more to existence than just normal waking consciousness in the physical world.
OBEs and Psychopathy
Research in the last half of the 20th century has shown that OBEs are quite common phenomena and unrelated to psychopathy. They have occurred in almost all cultures throughout known history and been the basis for philosophy, religious beliefs, and concepts of life after death. Numerous surveys have been conducted by various researchers since the 1950s, and the results indicate that sometime during their lifetimes approximately 10-20 percent of the adult population will have an OBE, which was defined by D. Scott Rogo, a parapsychology researcher, as any experience in which the subject believes that personal consciousness is located in space outside the physical body. However, some of those who have such an experience may fail to recognize it as an OBE.
In the past, mental health professionals believed OBEs were a symptom of mental illness related to several disorders: autoscopy, dissociation, ego splitting, and a high level of death anxiety.
Autoscopy is the hallucination of an image of a duplicate self outside the actual physical self, perceived from the physical self. Autoscopy does not even fit the definition of an OBE, because during an OBE the consciousness and senses are located outside the physical body, in the apparitional form if one is present. If the self is seen, it is the physical self that is perceived from a duplicate, not the other way around. An exception to this is dual consciousness, which will be discussed later. During autoscopy the subject realizes the duplicate self is a hallucination, but during an OBE, if the physical body is viewed, the subject usually believes that it is the actual physical body. Generally, to the person undergoing an OBE the physical body appears lying still, unconscious, but to the person experiencing autoscopy the double appears animated, often mimicking the movements of the physical self. Some psychologists include OBEs with autoscopy, but autoscopy and OBEs are clearly different phenomena and should not be confused.
Dissociation is a general term for a group of behavior disorders in which a person behaves as if certain repressed tendencies, such as guilt, aggression, or anxiety, surface as independent personalities. During OBEs, however, the entire personality remains cohesive; it just seems to leave the physical body and exist in a nonphysical form.
Psychogenic amnesia is a form of dissociation in which affected persons forget who they are and what they have been doing during all or part of their lives. During OBEs the memory functions as in physical consciousness, with subjects knowing exactly who they are and other past information.
Psychogenic fugue, a related dissociation disorder, is a variant of psychogenic amnesia in which the afflicted person changes residence and creates a new identity. An example would be an amnesia patient who travels some distance away from home and develops a new identity to protect the ego. Thousands of persons have experienced OBEs and remained in the same home and kept the same personal identity as before.
A widely publicized dissociation disorder is multiple personality, a condition in which more than one personality is present in the same person, with the personalities alternating outward expression. Each personality displays a unique character, level of intelligence, and abilities, and may or may not be aware of the others. During OBEs the same personality is present out of the body as is present in the body.
Depersonalization, another type of dissociation disorder, is a condition in which a person feels psychologically detached from the body and its surroundings, as if the self and the world were unreal. Both positive and negative emotions are noticeably absent. It does not involve the sensation of being in another body or experiencing reality from a point located outside the body, as an OBE does. Contrary to the experience of depersonalization, people reporting OBEs often describe a heightened sense of reality while exteriorized, with intense feelings, whether of happiness and well-being or panic and dread. During depersonalization many patients complain that the world appears pale and colorless, but many people reporting OBEs are impressed with the unusual brilliance and richness of color they see while exteriorized.
Depersonalization has also been associated with disturbance of body image, in which individuals have a misconception of the size, shape, and weight of their physical bodies or parts of it. Researchers have failed to establish any evidence that OBEs constitute a disturbance of body image.
Among the numerous studies that have been conducted to determine personality or cognitive differences between groups of people who have experienced OBEs and control groups who have not experienced OBEs, no consistent or highly significant deviations have been found in personality traits or mental abilities. (See Irwin 1985, Rogo 1986 and 1984.) One study, however, done in 1982, found direct relationships between people who reported experiencing being out-of-the-body at least one time and the traits of breadth of interest, innovation, stability, risk-taking, and social responsibility, but most of these correlations were not statistically significant. Another study, published by Harvey Irwin, showed evidence that persons who have experienced OBEs have a higher level of the need for intraception (attention to subjective psychological processes), lower levels of the need for deference (the submission to the wishes of others), and lower levels of the need for achievement, but, as he explains, these findings can only be regarded as areas where further study is necessary.
Dr. Graham Reed called OBEs ego splitting and suggested that they are a stress reaction to a painful situation, such as the loss of a loved one, expressed as an inappropriate tranquillity. Spontaneous OBEs can and often do occur during stressful situations, such as a serious accident or a near-death experience (NDE), to be discussed later, but OBEs also occur during situations in which stress is virtually absent. In fact, people who have learned to self-induce OBEs usually do so from a deliberately relaxed state of mind unrelated to traumatic events.
In 1974 the psychiatrist J. Ehrenwald proposed the theory that OBEs are a defense mechanism against death anxiety, but research attempts have failed to show that people undergoing OBEs have higher levels of death anxiety than people who have not had OBEs. This could be because the OBEs removed the death anxiety before the research was done, if such anxiety actually existed prior to the OBE. No conclusive evidence has either proved or disproved Ehrenwald's hypothesis.
Furthermore, studies have failed to show specific relationships between the occurrence of OBEs and hysteroid responses, neuroticism, psychoticism, or maladjustment.
Conscious OBEs and Dreams
After I learned that leaving the body is a fairly common experience within the mentally stable population, one of the next questions I asked myself about OBEs, since I had begun successfully self-inducing them consciously, was how do they differ from ordinary dreams? Conscious OBEs, as opposed to unconscious OBEs, which will be discussed later, have many similarities to dreams, but differ from dreams in important ways.
I have been able to remember many of my dreams since I was a toddler sleeping in a crib; they have ranged from simple images to complex situations involving plot, emotional drama, suspense, characterization, and even special effects. They are almost always in color. I have experienced all five senses in dreams, but literature reports that touch, taste, and smell are rare, with sight the most dominant and hearing second. Like other people's dreams, mine range from realistic and ordinary to fantastic and surreal.
One of the differences that I have observed between dreaming and astral projection is how I critically evaluate the experience while it progresses. In most dreams I lack the critical faculty, but in OBEs I can carefully evaluate each circumstance, just as in physical waking consciousness.
During a typical dream I am convinced that the dream world is veritable physical reality. As the dream events unfold, I accept them as normal physical happenings in the everyday world and have an unquestioning belief in the content no matter how absurd; if I dream of ten-foot-tall rabbits standing around outside a building, I automatically accept them as real. I lose critical judgment and lack self-awareness of my state of mind.
During conscious OBEs, instead of passively accepting the events taking place as physical reality, I question my state of consciousness, my actions, and the images around me. I acknowledge that I am in an alternative state of consciousness and can do things impossible in physical reality. If I see my quilt piled on my porch, I am aware that the quilt is appearing in the wrong place, and that in physical reality, when I went to sleep, it was on my bed, covering my physical body.
In dreams I am usually oblivious to the existence of the physical world, but during OBEs I make a conscious effort to distinguish the OBE from waking reality in the physical world. My OBEs can be so "realistic" that sometimes it is a mystery to me whether I am actually walking along physically, possibly sleepwalking, or exteriorized in astral form, so I look for proof of my conscious condition, such as the ability to float across the room or pass through a wall, to assure myself that I am in my astral body. In dreams I sometimes have amazing abilities, such as flying, as in OBEs, but in dreams I lack the incentive to purposely demonstrate them to ascertain my state of consciousness, except in special situations called lucid dreams, in which I am aware that I am dreaming. Lucid dreams are discussed later.
Dreams can be as realistic as the physical world, too. The difference is that during an OBE I wonder which state of consciousness I am in, until I analyze the evidence and form a conclusion, while in ordinary dreams I just accept the drama as physical reality until I awaken and realize it was all a dream.
While an OBE is occurring, my mind is more observant of itself and the state of consciousness it is experiencing, and retains more intellectual abilities than during dreams. While the OBE takes place, I evaluate the situation and make a conscious effort to commit it to memory. I examine with curiosity the images and events, and then analyze what I see, what is happening, and how I react. I compare and contrast the astral plane with the physical plane and the dream environment, noting peculiar similarities and differences. Impressed with the realism of the experience, I test the environment and my abilities, experiment with various hypotheses, form conclusions, and ponder the idiosyncrasies, of which there are many mystifying examples related in the literature, accounts of others, and those taken from my notes.
A major difference between dreams and conscious OBEs concerns the vehicle experienced as containing the self, the dream body compared to the astral body.
While I dream, I believe that the body I am occupying, operating, and perceiving from in the dream is my physical body, and it usually "looks" and "feels" much like the biological form I occupy during waking hours. Sometimes, however, my dream body can fly or breathe under water, but usually I just accept those abilities as physical reality, along with the rest of my dream world, mindless of the impossibility of those feats in a human organism and completely forgetting that I have a real physical body lying in bed asleep.
During an OBE I am convinced that the body I am occupying and functioning in is a subliminal body, either imaginary or nonphysical, but distinct and separated from my physical body, which I realize is lying in bed unconscious while I am out and about in astral form. I observe the phantom body which contains my vital essence, compare it with my organic body, and become aware of the astral form's unique attributes and abilities that are impossible to ascribe to the physical organism.
My dream body varies little, being a fairly accurate representation of my physical body, but my astral body changes extensively, taking on different forms from time to time. It is often a replica of my physical body with the look and feel of solid skin, muscle, and bone, but it is also capable of existing in other shapes and a range of material densities. One time I looked at my astral hand, and it looked like an alien hand, long, thin, and narrow, composed of ghastly pale flesh. Besides appearing solid, my astral body can also be composed of semi-physical material that is airy and weightless, or it can look as if it is made up entirely of light, golden-white.
Another difference between dreams and conscious OBEs is the source of control of the experience. Dream events seem to happen to me and OBE events seem to result more from my deliberate actions.
Excerpted from Astral Odyssey by Carol Eby. Copyright © 1996 Carol Eby. Excerpted by permission of Samuel Weiser, Inc..
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